Manchester City Council are blaming people for their homelessness so they do not have to address Manchester’s growing homeless crisis, according to a solicitor.
The criticism comes on World Homeless Day and as the council pledge to create a ‘homeless charter’, outlining how people and organisations can support and help people living on the city’s streets.
The council have spent the last two days in discussions with homeless and vulnerable people as well as partner organisations on how best to tackle the issue of homelessness in order to create the charter.
But Ben Taylor from WTB Solicitors, who has represented some of the members of the Homeless Camp, has said a lot of people applying for support were refused it because they were deemed to be ‘intentionally homeless’.
He told MM: “The local authority’s stance in assessing whether someone is unintentionally homeless or not is being applied too strictly.
“Manchester City Council will deny it, of course, but the homeless team are under considerable pressure not to find an individual to be unintentionally homeless.”
Whilst the council has a legal duty to provide support and accommodation to rough sleepers classified as being ‘unintentionally homeless’, it does not have a duty to provide for those classed as ‘intentionally homeless’.
The stricter classification of homeless people means that those who may have otherwise been classed as unintentionally homeless, are being told their homelessness is their fault and refused help and accommodation.
Many become homeless after losing their job and being subject to benefit sanctions by the Department For Work and Pensions or after relationship breakdowns.
If they want to solve the homeless crisis in the city, Mr Taylor said that the council needed to ‘build more houses’.
“Where else are they going to go? These are individuals who are found to be intentionally homeless by the local authority so the local authorities have no obligation to rehouse them,” he said.
“There’s clearly not enough accommodation in the private sector, private landlords won’t have them, so what do you do? You sleep rough.
“Manchester City Council should ask ‘why are there homeless people on the streets?’ rather than stopping them occupying certain bits of land. The problem will not just go away.”
This is not the first time the council has been criticised for refusing to deal with the homeless crisis and failing in its duty of care.
Last month private security and bailiffs destroyed The Ark, a ‘self-serving community’ for Manchester’s homeless, after a possession order was granted following a legal battle with the council and Manchester Metropolitan University.
The council has now taken out possession orders against a number of homeless people in the city.
They also recently failed in an attempt to take out an injunction, which would have meant certain individuals being committed to prison if they made a camp in the city.
“This litigation is very expensive. They have to go before a court, they have to satisfy a judge, they have to use a barrister. There are a lot of legal costs incurred,” Mr Taylor added.
“That money could have been more properly spent either building more council houses or funding hostel accommodation.”
The council’s citywide charter on homelessness is to be developed by organisations working with homeless people including the voluntary sector, street charities, faith groups, health carers and Greater Manchester Police.
But Jennifer Wu, a humanitarian aid-worker working with homeless people in the city, suggested that the council’s charter was a distraction from their repeated failure to address the homeless crisis.
And that rather than telling people to stop giving money to the homeless and to instead give it to homelessness charities, the council should provide housing to homeless people living in the city.
Speaking to MM, she said: “If the council really wanted to tackle the issue, they’d make a commitment to give people somewhere safe to go before winter hits.
“Rather than normalising the public to the crisis they’re still producing.
“They are reinforcing and normalising homelessness, and it is not an inevitable situation.
“The current crisis is being engineered, and its targeting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
The homeless crisis has alarmed many people across the city as the demand for hostel beds far outstrips the number of beds available in the city.
Before its destruction a petition calling for The Ark to be saved reached 3,000 signatures.
The Bishop of Manchester Dr David Walker, who has been involved with the council’s ‘homeless charter’, said that homelessness was ‘all of our responsibility’.
He said: “People end up on the streets as a result of complex personal circumstances, which often include: relationship breakdown, mental health problems, substance dependency and return to civilian life.
“The voluntary sector can move more quickly, take more risks and lever in more volunteer support than statutory services.
“It has reach into the most marginalised communities and is trusted by many who feel alienated from officialdom.”
“Alongside this, we look to the city council to take the strategic lead, to co-ordinate service provision and to provide the funding with which others can then lever in much larger support.”
Although MM contacted Manchester City Council about the issues raised, they have not yet got back to us.
In a statement to the press about the ‘homeless charter’ Councillor Paul Andrews, Executive Member for Adults Health and Wellbeing said: “Like many big cities, Manchester has a growing problem with homelessness.
“We know that as a council we can’t tackle this alone which is why we are adopting a new approach involving all the sectors of the city to play a part in helping address the difficult challenges of homelessness in our city.
“These discussions are the first steps in bringing about this homeless charter to ensure that we have the right organisations and people on board with a plan to take our work forward.
“We have already made some progress this year following our consultation looking into homeless provision and based on what we heard we have already made changes to our provision including bringing more bed spaces online and removing barriers that it make it difficult for rough sleepers to accept.”